Urban Enthusiast – October 2015

Urban Enthusiast – October 2015


Dustin M. Wax is a man who wears many hats. A writer, gallery board member, art enthusiast and adjunct college instructor, Wax is also the Executive Director of the Burlesque Hall of Fame. The Omaha, Nebraska native came to Las Vegas in 2003 and quickly set to work familiarizing himself with the city and in particular, downtown Las Vegas.

What drew you to DTLV?
I started coming downtown about 10 or so years ago for First Fridays, and I’ve always been attracted to the raw possibility of the area. Having lived in New York City for five years before landing in Las Vegas, I made the common newcomer’s mistake of comparing New York’s wealth of cultural events and institutions, great bars and restaurants, shopping, and just plain stroll-ability with Las Vegas’ relative lack of all those things. But when I experienced downtown, I realized that what seemed like a weakness was really a strength — that what Las Vegas offered, especially downtown, was the opportunity to create a culture worth living in, free from the constrictions of an (often stale and hidebound) cultural establishment.

Why did the Burlesque Hall of Fame settle in Emergency Arts?
At the time, the art and culture scene in Las Vegas was just starting to take root. And after a generation of ups and downs, it was clear that something was going to happen. There were all these creative, community-minded people with ideas that needed space to become realities, and East Fremont had nothing but space. It was a great place for a small organization like ours to settle in and grow.

What attractions of the neighborhood do you enjoy?
We have a great cocktail culture downtown, in places like Atomic Liquors, Downtown Cocktail Room, the bar at Inspire, and Velveteen Rabbit and Artifice in the Arts District. And when I’m feeling more back-to-basics, the Huntridge Tavern can’t be beat! For food, I love eat. (when I’m out and about early enough) and have been really digging the ramen at Itsy Bitsy Ramen. And of course there’s Mundo for fancier nights out, especially before a show at The Smith Center.

But of course, I’m a museum guy, so arts and culture are the main draw for me. I live across the street from the Neon Museum and it gives me great pleasure to see the La Concha shell and all the signs from my kitchen window. We have a natural affinity with the Neon Museum and with the Mob Museum — many of the women represented in our collection dated the men featured in the Mob Museum, so connecting the dots is easy. And then there’s the Arts District, which is what drew me downtown in the first place. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Blackbird Studios, which is everything I think an art gallery should be: community-focused, accessible, affordable, and just downright fun. Full disclosure, I’m on the board at Blackbird, but that only reinforces my endorsement. Like many, many others, I’m willing to donate my time because it’s such an important place to have as part of our downtown. Aside from Blackbird, while I’m not as comfortable in the crowds and spectacle of First Friday as I used to be, I do try to hit the Arts Factory and Art Square during Preview Thursday whenever I can, particularly Sin City Gallery.

What do you think sets DTLV apart from other neighborhoods in Las Vegas?
The raw potential and open space of downtown has drawn all manner of doers to the area to try things out. People open stores and galleries, produce shows, create special events, teach classes, and do all sorts of things here they simply couldn’t afford to do in the suburbs.  As long as I’ve been downtown, there has been this sense of being in a small town — so many like-minded people have been drawn there, bringing with them such a strong yearning for community, that it feels like we all know each other — or could. I’ve lived in the suburbs, out near Rhodes Ranch and way out in Centennial Hills, and they always felt like places where nobody knew anyone else, where everyone was tucked away in their houses, with no reason to connect with the people around them. Downtown isn’t like that, there has always been the sense that everyone is working on some big project and that we were all building this great community together.

Photo: Dustin M. Wax portrait by Lucky Wenzel

  • Dayvid Figler and Rae Lathrop

    DF: Downtown was great as a kid and it is even greater as an adult. I love all of downtown’s hidden gems, its vibrancy, history and sense of connection. Rae is relatively newer to Las Vegas, but just as passionate about downtown. Downtown lends itself to the shared experience, and as a couple we both love seeing this part of the city through each other's eyes. Photo: Lucky Wenzel


  • Rob Ponte

    Some of the best nights I’ve experienced started out with no plan other than walking around to check out what’s going on. The great thing about having so many bars and restaurants downtown is the ability to move around if you’re not feeling the vibe in one place. There are plenty of options just outside the door. Photo: Lucky Wenzel

  • Brandon Wiegand

    The downtown Las Vegas of today has much to attract residents - a burgeoning restaurant and nightlife scene, growing diversity of businesses, and major centers of art and culture. Plus, living downtown I am easily within walking or biking distance of it all. Photo: Lucky Wenzel

  • Hank Gordon, Chairman of Laurich Properties

    It is always a pleasure to deal with the city of Las Vegas’ economic development department. The staff is really interested in helping create a positive business environment to work with.

  • Jonathan Jenkins, Founder & CEO of OrderWithMe

    As our company continues its rapid growth, we quickly realized the need to set up a formal U.S. headquarters. We explored multiple cities and were about to make the move to San Francisco, and then we heard about the complete reinvention of downtown Las Vegas. Coming from China where things are booming and growing, we love that downtown Vegas now has a similar vibe of energy and change. Not only is there an exciting tech community here and much lower costs than the Bay Area, but we love the fact that almost every industry group brings their conventions to our front door once a year.

  • Andy Hsieh, Owner of Lux Delux

    We love the vibrancy and energy of Las Vegas, and downtown is at the heart of it all. That's why we've launched our mobile platform with a focus on downtown. This is an exciting time in Las Vegas history, where community, commerce and technology are all converging at once. Downtown is our city's hidden gem.

  • Ramesh Srinivasan, Chief Marketing Officer & Head of Partnerships of SocialWellth

    We chose to relocate from the suburbs to downtown for several reasons. Our brand image and that of downtown’s mesh perfectly. The new downtown Las Vegas reflects a more hip, startup, social media-style image. Additionally, downtown’s emerging technology corridor, anchored by Zappos, is an environment that enhances our ability to recruit the types of technical skill sets required for our continued growth and success.

  • Mark Brandenburg, President of Golden Gate

    I think downtown Las Vegas is a unique blend of intimacy and great energy. Plus, in contrast to The Strip, it’s so easy to walk around…The Golden Gate has been here for over 100 years and with all the changes going on downtown, it feels like a new era. It truly is a renaissance—the rebirth of a classic.

  • Roberto Mendoza, Co-owner of Banger Brewing

    The city has been great in helping us with the licensing and procedures necessary to start a business. There hasn't been a brewery built in the city of Las Vegas for probably 10 years. So for them it hasn't been a typical ‘cut and paste’ thing. We're something different. It was a team work process to get us opened – a lot of talk and listening on both sides. And now the city started opening up the doors for other breweries once we were up and running. Good news for us and good news for the future. (Photo: Lucky Wenzel)

  • Alexandra Epstein, Executive Vice President of El Cortez Casino Hotel

    This downtown area… is emerging and where many events are happening.

  • Meghan Mossler, Owner of Stitch Factory

    The city and the department of economic development have been very helpful to us and all the other downtown business owners. It’s such a community here, and everyone asks you what you need. That kind of help launching a business is amazing and priceless.

  • Pamela Dylag, Co-owner of Velveteen Rabbit

    The city is so supportive of new businesses. Things are popping up constantly. (Photo: Lucky Wenzel)

  • Marc Abelman, CFO & Co-owner of Inside Style

    Downtown is becoming very much in demand…there’s a limited supply. Run fast, don’t walk.

  • Sam Cherry, CEO of Cherry Development

    For a while, downtown was one of the only places in the valley you would see cranes when you drove around. It was nice that city government stepped up and the private sector married with the public sector to create amazing projects that filled the gap. That was very important for us.

  • Johnny Jimenez, Owner of Toy Shack of Las Vegas

    Our business is booming amid the foot traffic on Fremont Street, and we’ve started to see how tourists are falling in love with downtown as they discover it. In the past year, we’re increasingly hearing things like, ‘Wow, next time we’ll stay downtown instead of on The Strip,’ or ‘We’ve visited downtown many times, but this is the first year we’ve actually stayed in a downtown hotel.’ They like that there is more to do within a smaller walking radius.

  • Rich Worthington, President and CEO of The Molasky Group of Companies

    Historically, downtown Las Vegas has not been a top destination for many locals, but in recent years… that trend is reversing itself. Given all the recent openings and progress, there’s much to explore and experience downtown.